INFIGHTING and “unreal backstabbing” over the political future of Willem Westra van Holthe are creating heated divisions within the Katherine branch of the Country Liberal Party.
Following emails and bank statements being leaked that showed he planned to invest in a Vietnamese company with links to the Northern Territory government, Mr Westra van Holthe moved to the backbench on February 14 amid claims he had breached the ministerial code of conduct.
While he continues to have the public support of Chief Minister Adam Giles and the party, the Katherine Times can reveal at least four members of Mr Westra van Holthe’s own branch are lining up to replace him as the preselected candidate for August’s election.
Under the CLP constitution, a branch can only make a recommendation to disendorse a candidate, so it would take either a central council or management committee vote to formally strip Mr Westra van Holthe of the party’s support.
One source within the branch, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said deep rifts had formed as internal and external pressure continued to be applied to the embattled Member for Katherine.
“It’s quite clear that the move to disendorse Willem by a small group in the branch is not about the good of the Country Liberals, but advancing personal agendas,” the source said.
“A number of individuals on the branch executive have already indicated their interest in becoming the new Country Liberals candidate if Willem is disendorsed.”
The source added that internal opposition to Mr Westra van Holthe’s preselection represented a “clear conflict of interest” as potential replacements tested their political footing.
Chief Minister maintains public support
Mr Giles maintained this week that his former deputy chief minister “absolutely” had his support.
“I don’t get involved in the party side of things,” he said.
However, the Chief Minister did admit that he still believed Mr Westra van Holthe had breached the ministerial code of conduct by not advising him about the planned $630,000 investment.
“Look, I had a look at the ministerial code and looked at what it says, and had some concerns, as Willem did, and that’s why he stepped down,” he said.
“That alleviates that concern.
“If you’re thinking about doing it, you’ve got to let someone know.”
MLA stands ground on preselection position
In an exclusive interview with the Katherine Times on March 1, a defiant Mr Westra van Holthe said he would not yield to branch pressure to stand aside, adding that the issue of a breach was “done and dusted”.
“Well, I am the preselected and endorsed candidate for Katherine,” he said.
“I still enjoy the support of the party, as a whole, so my full intentions at this moment in time are to move forward to the election as the CLP candidate for Katherine.
“I’m not going to get into an argument with the Chief Minister over whether I did or didn’t breach the ministerial code of conduct.”
When quizzed about speculation that a family member had invested in the CT Group on his behalf following his decision not to go through with a share offer, Mr Westra van Holthe rebuffed the claim.
“I can absolutely say that neither I nor my family members, my new partner, have any investments with any of my money,” he said.
“There is absolutely no link, financially or legally, between me and the CT Group through anybody.”
Another branch source, who also asked not to be named, said Mr Westra van Holthe’s assertion meant little.
“He’s got to go,” they said.
“The situation is a disgrace and gets murkier every time he opens his mouth.”
CLP president Tory Mencshelyi confirmed that a special general meeting would be held within the next fortnight to discuss the “Katherine situation”.